Four Los Angeles area men learned the hard way that if you use Facebook to plan your terrorist training and murderous plots, federal authorities will find you and shut you down in a hurry.
Federal officials arrested the four men who officials allege were on their way to Afghanistan to train with the Taliban and join al-Qaeda, after which they planned on killing American soldiers and bombing government installations, according to a joint statement issued yesterday by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles.
The ringleader of the plot, Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, a U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan, encouraged two of the others to embrace violent Islamic doctrine and introduced them to radical teachings such as those of now deceased U.S.-born al-Qaeda imam Anwar al-Awlaki.
Over the course of a year, according to federal officials, the three men talked on Facebook, outlining their intentions and their radical plans. One of them unwittingly exposed his intentions in an online chat with an FBI employee. The fourth suspect was recruited later to join them.
The four men were Sohiel Omar Kabir, Ralph Deleon, Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales and Arifeen David Gojali, who face charges of supporting terrorists who conspired to kill, kidnap or harm U.S. officers and other U.S. citizens, as well as bomb public places and government facilities. The Joint Terrorism Task Force in Riverside, California, arrested Deleon, 23, Santana, 21, and Gojali, 21, on Friday. Kabir, 34, is in custody in Afghanistan, according to the criminal complaint submitted to the U.S. District Court.
Kabir had been in Germany for six months before traveling in July to Afghanistan, where he was preparing for the others’ arrival.
The government charges against the men go on for 74 pages, detailing the evidence collected against them from online chats with FBI employees, travel documents, extensive contact with an informant, recorded conversations and their active social media accounts.
Kabir, Santana and Deleon all posted radical jihad content to their Facebook page, the court documents allege. But Kabir’s page in particular contained multiple links to and videos by al-Awlaki, videos depicting mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings.
“Deleon and Santana ‘liked’ postings on Kabir’s Facebook page as early as May 2011,” according to the court document.
Kabir led Santana and Deleon to convert and join the Taliban, eventually leading to membership in al-Qaeda, the criminal complaint alleges. Santana recruited Gojali, the fourth man, to join them for the trip abroad to train as terrorists.
Santana clearly wasn’t the brightest terrorism candidate—he tipped off authorities about his militant inclinations when he tried to enter the U.S. at the border with Mexico carrying the jihad magazine “Inspire.”
Santana told the confidential source said he would like to drive a truck bomb, if he could do it with a big truck. “Just drive it into like the baddest military base,” he said, according to the document. “If I’m gonna do, I’m gonna do that. I’m gonna take out a whole base.”
Kabir is a naturalized U.S. citizen, who was born in Afghanistan and lived in Pomona, California. Deleon is a permanent U.S. resident living in Ontario and was born in the Philippines. Santana, a resident of Upland, is a lawful permanent resident, born in Mexico, who has applied for U.S. citizenship. Gojali, 21, of Riverside, is a U.S. citizen.
The men face a maximum sentence of 15 years in a federal prison, if convicted.